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Building Issues

These are just the "highlights" . . .

2003
The Ohebshalom family purchased the building in April 2003. By July, several tenants had moved out, several others faced eviction, all tenants had experienced multiple unannounced "inspections" by the new landlord, and building maintenance had begun a rapid decline. We formed our Tenant Association and, in November 2003, representatives met with Ben and Jon Shalom to present to the landlord a list of required repairs and services signed by 80% of tenants. Some of the problems presented were:

  • The Courtyard: maintenance of the garden, trash, and repairs.
  • The Garden: currently our garden is a weedpatch/ashtray. We intend to revive it via some do-it-ourselves gardening!
  • Garbage: our courtyard has become a landfill.
  • Repairs: our building is falling apart due to neglect.

The Shaloms failed to address these problems.

One tenant filed a DHCR complaint about the garbage. The Shaloms retaliated by erecting a garbage pen in the back of the courtyard. The one and only thing that made our building "nice" was its courtyard and garden, and the complaints we presented to the Shaloms made it clear that the courtyard and garden were important to tenants. The "garbage pen" infurated almost everyone. The Shaloms told tenants who complained that the garbage pen was the Tenant Association's idea. The Shaloms required the tenant who filed the DHCR complaint to withdraw the complaint in exchange for removal of the garbage pen.

We then spent our first Shalom winter with inadequate heat, garbage up to our necks, and vermin infestations beyond belief . . . among other problems.

2004
In February 2004, the Tenant Association filed a building-wide complaint with the DHCR. The Shaloms intensified their campaign to undermine the Tenants Association by "persuading" members to withdraw their DHCR complaints and withdraw from the Tenants Association. The Shaloms threatened to revoke rent discounts, threatened evictions, promised repairs and/or maintenance . . . anything to get tenants to give up their rights. The lawyer representing the Shaloms in the DHCR complaint submitted a number of signed, sometimes notarized, withdrawal statements from tenants.

In April, the Shaloms destroyed our courtyard garden.

Eventually, DHCR dismissed our building-wide complaint in its entirety. We filed a Petition for Administrative Review (PAR) for the garbage issue alone, citing the violations issued by HPD. Because the Shaloms had falsely certified correction of the garbage violations, and because DHCR's inspector showed up on recycling collection day (when there was no garbage on the premises), DHCR dismissed the PAR as well.

By the time the DHCR complaint was dismissed, Tenant Association officers had become active in the Shalom Tenants Alliance. Given that we now realized we weren't dealing with just a small-time bad landlord but slumlords of historic proportions, the Tenant Association decided to devote its energies to fighting the larger battle by working with the Shalom Tenants Alliance. (That's why not much has happened on this site since early 2004).

Meanwhile, tenants became aware of other issues:

  • Tenant turnover was alarmingly high. In the five years prior to Shalom takeover, the building averaged 4-5 vacancies per year. The Shaloms achieved at least 30 vacancies by the end of 2004.
  • Some of the vacancies were especially alarming -- by September 2004, five apartments had turned over twice since the Shaloms took over, and at least one of them was in 1660, where, previously, there had always been a five-year waiting list.
  • Tenants were experiencing many "construction accidents" and other situations that damaged personal property and/or required "emergency repair access" to their apartments -- access gained, at times, without permission and resulting in property damage.
  • The intercom system was broken repeatedly, requiring tenants to stay home all day to accommodate repairs.
  • Tenants received "notices to cure" and eviction notices for "clutter" in their apartments or baseless accusations of "illusory tenancy" or "nonprimary tenancy" or "illegal sublet" or . . . pets.
  • Tenants -- especially those threatened with legal actions -- were accepting laughably low "buyouts" to give up their rent-stabilized apartments.
  • Some apartments were being rented on a short-term basis, which is illegal in a rent-stabilized building.

As the building turned into a cheap motel, apartments were being renovated -- illegally, without permits. The first few apartments to be renovated, in 2003, were in 1660 Third Avenue, and they were not (so far as we knew) any cause for concern. But we realized in early 2004 that the Shaloms were radically reconfiguring the studios in1656 and 1658, moving the kitchens from the North/South walls to the East/South walls, back-to-back with the bathrooms. Doing this required moving the gas, electrical, and plumbing lines into an unfeasible configuration. Best of all, the kitchen ventilation shafts are located in the North/South partition walls. In apartments they renovated, the Shaloms sealed over the ventilation ducts and installed fake vent grilles in the ceilings over the new kitchenettes. Oh, and they also removed the heating radiators from the bathrooms in renovated apartments.

By the end of August, the resident superindendent had been removed from the building. Immediately, the boiler began shutting down "randomly," leaving tenants without hot water. This continued throughout the fall and winter, in addition to the continuous lack of adequate heat..

2005
Construction and expansion of Ecco-La Restaurant into the superintendent's apartment (#1) in 1660 and Apartment M in 1658 began in January. Elimination of the courtyard and construction involving horizontal expansion and commercial conversion of the entire ground floors of 1656 and 1658 began in May.

By the end of May, the Shaloms had cut an opening in the party wall between 1656 and 1658, transforming the lobby of 1656 into a "garbage room" and rerouting 1656 tenant egress through the lobby of 1658 and all egress from 1656 and 1658 Third Avenue into a plywood tunnel to the main lobby. This resulted in the elimination of legal secondary egress and lack of a Fire Safety Plan for tenants in C, D, M, and N apartments. These apartments share "party wall balconies" as fire escapes, legal only so long as the party wall itself remained intact. When the Shaloms opened the party wall to re-route the lobbies, they eliminated all means of escape should heat, smoke, or flame fill the now-shared lobby or the stairwell of either building. Previously, the Fire Safety Plan for C, D, M, and N apartments was as follows. If a tenant in an M or N apartment in 1658 was unable get out through her front door, s/he was to go out the window and walk along the fire balcony, enter a C or D apartment's window in 1656, and then exit the building via the stairwell and courtyard door of 1656. Likewise, a tenant in a C or D apartment in 1656 would enter an M or N apartment window in 1658 and exit via the stairwell and courtyard door of 1658. After the Shaloms opened the party wall, there was nothing to prevent smoke, heat, or flame from filling both stairwells. This was just one of many serious issues with the construction. On June 15, the Department of Buildings stopped the construction project and issued a list of 23 objections with intent to revoke the permits. By August, there were five Stop Work Orders in place and neither the Shaloms nor Ecco-La were allowed to do any work.

Meanwhile, also in June, Ecco-La's basement was flooded about 8" deep with raw sewage. It stayed like this for at least two weeks, causing a massive rat infestation. The plumbing problem was repaired by the Shaloms in late June, but the sewage was not cleaned up for another two or three weeks -- and when it was cleaned up, it was not done professionally or thoroughly. The rats spread out across the neighborhood, destroying sidewalk plantings and our neighbors' yards. Another few weeks passed before exterminators were brought in. Throughout the summer, residents were terrorized by rats in the "garbage room" and on the sidewalk, and the sewage odor remained strong both within the building and on the sidewalk.

The rest of the summer was relatively quiet, but the Stop Work Orders for Ecco-La were lifted in August and construction resumed furtively. By Fall, the landlord somehow managed to answer the DOB's objections to the "horizntal expansion" and apartment renovation projects; while the audit was approved by DOB and the remaining Stop Work Orders were lifted in October, construction did not return to full force until January.

In September, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development did a top-to-bottom re-inspection of violations in our building and found nine violations falsely certified as corrected.

In October, as part of a long-term, ongoing criminal investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney's office conducted a raid of our landlord's offices and seized about 50 boxes of documents.

2006
With the new year, construction resumed with a vengeance. While work was stopped by the Deparment of Buildings, 13 apartments became vacant, and heaven knows the Shaloms don't want to rent an apartment if they can't tack on a 1/40th "improvement" increase onto the vacancy rent. In January and February 2006, gut renovations began or resumed on all 13 vacant apartments, while construction on the "horizontal expansion" project steamed ahead. In January 2006, 18 pre-Shalom tenants remained and there had been 50 vacancies in 32 months.

On February 2, 2006, New York State Senator Tom Duane hosted a Shalom Tenants Alliance organizing meeting that made a HUGE difference for our building. The meeting was attended by about 175 tenants, and about 25 representatives from elected offices, including the Mayor's office, City Council, State Assembly, State Senate, and the Manhattan District Attorney's office. A panel of representatives from the Department of Buildings, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, NYC Fire Department, and several tenant support organizations responded to a list of questions provided in advance by the Shalom Tenants Alliance and questions from the audience. Senators Tom Duane and Liz Krueger moderated. One question for the Fire Department was, "What should Shalom Tenants do to prepare if egress is compromised?" The FDNY spokesman gave a somewhat canned answer, so a 188 E 93rd Street Tenant Association representative offered a followup question: "What should we do if we have party wall balconies and only one hallway?" When the Senators presented this question, all of the panelists' jaws dropped. After some discussion, Vito Mustaciuolo, Associate HPD Commissioner of Code Enforcement, promised a joint inspection of our building by HPD, DOB, and FDNY. The next day, Commissioner Mustaciuolo visited our building personally. After conducting a thorough inspection, he contacted our landlord and demanded that the party wall between 1656 and 1658 Third Avenue be closed and the lobby of 1656 Third Avenue re-opened for fire safety. The landlord complied. The Department of Buildings followed with another audit.

On February 22, 2006, a swarm of inspectors from HPD and DOB descended upon our building. As of this writing (late on February 22), a 7/24 fire watch is in effect. The construction done by our landlord severely compromised our safety. At this point, if there is a fire, there is no way for tenants of C, D, M, and N apartments to get out of the building, nor is there a way for the Fire Department to get in. Hence, until the landlord provides for our fire safety, we have a 24-hour watch in place. This at least gives us a running start if an emergency situation occurs.

In February 2006, HPD initiated a lawsuit against our landlord for failure to provide heat. Our MIA super had officially resigned, and the intercom was out of order. We were down to only 15 of 51 pre-Shalom tenants, and there had been 59 vacancies in 33 months.

On March 2, 2006, tenants filed harassment complaints as part of the Shalom Tenants Alliance's group actionOn March 13, workers returned to work on the fire escapes - with no permits on file with the Department of Buildings and a Stop Work Order in effect. The landlord demanded "emergency" access to apartments to install bolts for the fire escapes, breaking in to at least one apartment we know about. Construction resumed at 1656 Third Avenue -- in defiance of Stop Work Orders.

In April 2006, construction of the restaurant, Ecco-La, was in full force at all hours. HPD's lawsuit against the landlord for failure to provide heat went to trial, ending with a consent order (which the landlord ignored). New mailboxes were installed, with the landlord requiring tenants to show ID to a person who refused to identify himself in order to receive new mailbox keys.

[Have to come back later to fill in the middle of 2006.]

At the end of April 2006, we were down to 14 pre-Shalom tenants, and there had been 73 vacancies in 43 months.

On December 1, 2006, Ecco-La prepared to go back into business. They launched their new kitchen with a bang. The ventilation system could be heard from the sidewalk on E 93rd Street. By December 7, the Tenant Association was receiving emails from the neighbors complaining about the noise from the ventilation system.

2007
[Have to come back later to fill in the beginning of 2007.]

In March 2007, tenants filed DHCR docket # VC41008B requesting for a rent reduction based upon elimination of the building's courtyard.

At the end of April 2007, we were down to 14 pre-Shalom tenants, and there had been 78 vacancies in 48 months. Happy anniversary to us!